Weekend Box Office (April 23 - 25, 2004)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND For the first time ever in the traditionally slow month of April, two films opened to more than $20M in ticket sales on the same weekend. In a heated race for the top spot, Fox's Denzel Washington action film Man on Fire edged out Sony's Jennifer Garner comedy 13 Going On 30 by a mere $1.7M. Each film delivered a strong debut that exceeded industry expectations keeping the marketplace vibrant in the final weeks before the launch of the summer movie season.

Washington's vigilante film Man on Fire took the number one position with $22.8M from 2,979 locations, according to final studio figures. Averaging a stellar $7,637 per location, the R-rated pic also starred Dakota Fanning, Christopher Walken, and pop singer Marc Anthony. The tale of an assassin-turned-bodyguard who seeks vengeance on those who abducted his client's daughter becomes the best opening ever for Washington inching above 2001's Training Day which bowed to $22.6M and a $8,315 average.

Man on Fire appealed to a mature adult audience and skewed more towards women despite being a violent and bloody action film. Studio research indicated that 55% of the crowd was female and 68% was 25 or older. Competition for the shoot-em-up crowd was tough this weekend as fellow revenge-based actioners Kill Bill Vol. 2 and The Punisher were both in their second weekends. However, Denzel took care of them sending the films plunging by more than 55% each. Beating out 13 Going On 30 was no easy task either as Man played in 459 fewer theaters, had a more restrictive R rating, and faced more direct competition.

The opening comes as good news to Fox which has struggled this year with misfires like Welcome to Mooseport, Catch That Kid, and The Girl Next Door which all opened to less than $7M each. In fact, the studio has not opened a film at number one since X2: X-Men United kicked off the summer season one year ago.

Opening in second place with a charming debut of $21.1M was the fantasy comedy 13 Going On 30 starring Alias star Jennifer Garner anchoring her first feature film. The Sony title averaged a splendid $6,124 from an ultrawide 3,438 venues and announced the arrival of the actress as a serious commercial draw. Young women turned off by this month's seemingly endless string of macho action films came out in big numbers for 13. Two-thirds of the audience was female and 55% was under the age of 25. The $37M production tells the story of a teenage girl from 1987 who wakes up one day to find herself in the body of her 29-year-old self in the present.

Sony backed the film with a terrific marketing campaign and offered two weekends of well-received sneak previews to spread positive buzz. Numerous studios have used sneaks this spring to help launch their titles, but none have come close to the success of 13's. Despite having a star who has never carried a film at the box office before, and no major male companion, 13 Going On 30 still opened in the same ballpark as last spring's Kate Hudson-Matthew McConaughey romantic comedy hit How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days which debuted to $23.8M and a $8,134 average. That Paramount hit went on to gross $105.8M.

Dropping from first place was Quentin Tarantino's samurai saga Kill Bill Vol. 2 which tumbled 59% and grossed $10.4M. Although Kill Bill Vol. 1 dropped by 44% in its second weekend last October, a much larger decline was expected for the second half. With $43M in ten days (about the same as the first chapter), the Miramax actioner should find its way to about $65M putting it a bit lower than the $70M take of Vol. 1.

Fellow sophomore revenge film The Punisher also dropped heavily falling 55% to $6.3M. Lions Gate has taken in $24.2M after ten days and looks to reach $37-40M overall.

In fifth place was Disney's animated film Home on the Range with $3.6M, off 35%, for a cume of $42.6M. Competing family films Scooby Doo 2 and Johnson Family Vacation took in $3.4M and $3.1M lifting totals to $76.8M and $25M, respectively.

Sony's Hellboy fell 45% to $3.1M for a total of $54.8M. Miramax's fairy tale pic Ella Enchanted followed in ninth with $3M, down only 30%, for a $17.5M sum. The Rock's revenge actioner Walking Tall rounded out the top ten with $2.7M, down 42%, giving the MGM title $40.5M to date.

Two historical epics that could not have experienced more different fates at the box office fell out of the top ten over the weekend. Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ finally left the upper regions of the charts after two months and grossed $2.2M. Off 45%, the NewMarket title has collected a stunning $364.4M from North America and sits in the number seven slot on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters where it should remain. Produced for only $30M, the Icon production has easily become the runaway success of the year and should finish with roughly $370M. Overseas, Passion has already grossed over $200M.

On the other hand, the mega-budgeted film The Alamo tumbled another 51% to $2M giving the Buena Vista disaster only $19.7M to date. With over $100M in production costs alone, the Dennis Quaid-Billy Bob Thornton pic should limp to just $25M.

The top ten films grossed $79.3M which was up 11% from last year when Identity opened at number one with $16.2M; and up 18% from 2002 when The Scorpion King remained in the top spot with $18M.

Compared to projections, Man on Fire debuted a few notches above my $18M forecast while 13 Going On 30 debuted well ahead of my $16M prediction.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on which of next weekend's new films will open best. In last week's survey, readers were asked if they wanted to see a sequel to Hellboy. Of 1,410 responses, 55% chose Yes while 45% said No.

For a review of Kill Bill Vol. 2 visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Envy, Godsend, Laws of Attraction, and Mean Girls all open.

Marketplace: Shop for videos, DVDs, music, books, and posters at discounted prices using search engines

# Title Apr 23 - 25 Apr 16 - 18 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Man on Fire $ 22,751,490 2,979 1 $ 7,637 $ 22,791,395 Fox
2 13 Going On 30 21,054,238 3,438 1 6,124 21,054,283 Sony
3 Kill Bill Vol. 2 10,410,219 25,104,949 -58.5 3,073 2 3,388 42,961,864 Miramax
4 The Punisher 6,287,612 13,834,527 -54.6 2,649 2 2,374 24,167,233 Lions Gate
5 Home on the Range 3,570,296 5,507,064 -35.2 2,481 4 1,439 42,554,404 Buena Vista
6 Scooby Doo 2 3,417,478 5,227,232 -34.6 2,420 5 1,412 76,795,462 Warner Bros.
7 Hellboy 3,112,647 5,652,030 -44.9 2,218 4 1,403 54,803,288 Sony
8 Johnson Family Vacation 3,094,697 5,950,280 -48.0 1,259 3 2,458 25,039,859 Fox Searchlight
9 Ella Enchanted 2,965,922 4,241,089 -30.1 2,149 3 1,380 17,477,322 Miramax
10 Walking Tall 2,660,332 4,601,007 -42.2 2,201 4 1,209 40,530,881 MGM
11 The Passion of the Christ 2,216,051 4,051,112 -45.3 2,269 9 977 364,414,581 NewMarket
12 The Alamo 2,033,127 4,138,571 -50.9 2,039 3 997 19,724,059 Buena Vista
13 Connie and Carla 1,625,875 3,254,940 -50.0 1,016 2 1,600 5,945,990 Universal
14 The Ladykillers 1,495,884 2,482,856 -39.8 1,204 4 1,242 36,733,798 Buena Vista
15 The Whole Ten Yards 1,455,492 3,585,434 -59.4 2,010 2 724 14,986,414 Warner Bros.
16 The Prince and Me 1,360,940 3,344,157 -59.3 1,863 3 731 26,487,415 Paramount
17 Eternal Sunshine 1,111,048 1,367,316 -18.7 501 5 2,218 29,718,070 Focus
18 The Girl Next Door 1,109,813 2,757,145 -59.7 1,176 2 944 13,124,790 Fox
19 Clifford's Really Big Movie 657,785 471 1 1,397 1,804,337 Warner Bros.
20 Jersey Girl 542,628 1,462,007 -62.9 924 4 587 24,514,952 Miramax
Top 5 $ 64,073,855 $ 56,048,850 14.3
Top 10 79,324,931 78,307,861 1.3
Top 20 92,933,574 98,764,099 -5.9
Top 20 vs. 2003 92,933,574 84,645,491 9.8

Last Updated : April 26, 2004 at 10:45PM EDT

Gitesh Pandya can be seen each Friday on "The Biz" airing at 12:30pm ET on CNNfn.